Following the death of the Ethiopian strongman, his deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, Zinewi’s deputy was named as the interim prime minister. He is from southern Ethiopia, and born to a minority ethnic and religious group. Naturally, any time, any where a long reigning dictator or strong man dies, fears of violence and political turmoil emerge from the wood work. Here in Ethiopia that reality is looming large, and the clouds of uncertainty and fear are quickly coming to hang over Ethiopia in particular and the troubled Horn of Africa in general. In his long reign of Ethiopia, Zinewi was a man of many hats, who accumulated a number of important cards under his belt. Besides being the absolute ruler of Ethiopia for a very long time, he was also a major player, and a star for the lackluster and hapless dictator den called the AU, or African Union (African Disunion).
Zinewi was at the same time, the imperial west’s preeminent point man in the Horn of Africa, and acted there as a major care taker, and food soldier for their narrow and selfish interest. For some poor Ethiopians he was a God send man, because he pulled them out of the bottomless depths of poverty, and for Ethiopian human right organizations and banned opposition leaders, and their supporters, Zinewi’s was another dictator who may be in the same caliber, or species if you will with the Ethiopia’s former, notorious genocidal butcher, Mengistu Haile Mariam. In nutshell he was many things to many people. There is no doubt Zinew’s has under taken numerous developmental projects in Ethiopia, and thus was a success story in that category. He also was instrumental regarding the huge growth of the Ethiopian economy. Moreover, he was an utter failure when it comes to democratization, human rights, opening the political system, freedom of press and expression, allowing political parties and dissent, and health care. In conclusion throughout his long reign of Ethiopia and until his death, the man remained a rather complex, secretive, mysterious and controversial figure.
Shrewd, intelligent, innovative, enigmatic, ambitious, despotic, intolerant of dissent, allergic to any ideas different than his, multi-faced chameleon, cunning, revolutionary, and visionary are some of the few adjectives that may come to mind when describing the deceased Ethiopian strong man. Meles has born in the northern Ethiopia region of Tigrey. He completed most of his education in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. After completing high school, he went to a medical school. By the time he was in his second year of medical school, Ethiopia’s political, ethnic, and ideological turmoil intensified. The Eriterian war of independence heated up, and Ethiopia’ strongman Mengistu Hail Mariam was becoming a failing bloodier butcher who is losing control of the country. His opposition within Ethiopia was growing exponentially. In fact, the cumulative effects of the above named events have impacted on Zinewi, to leave his medical school and join the Tigrian peoples’ Front, a Marxist guerilla organization that eventually toppled Mengistu. After a long struggle, the TPLF later on has metamorphosed into a little bit more broad-based coalition comprising of different Ethiopian groups called the EPRDP. It was this group that in the final analysis marched into Addis Ababa and ousted Mengistu. At the same time, the EPLF, Eritrea’s main liberation movement was on the verge of wrestling all the territory of Eretria’s from Mengistu’s army. In 1991 the EPRDP has taken over Addis Ababa, and the whole country for that matter, and then Zinewi emerges as Ethiopia’s prime minister. During his long tenure, he has done both positive and negative things for Ethiopia. For example he has helped millions of Ethiopia emerged out of poverty, he built state of the art infra-structure, became the United States ally and partner in their so-called war on terrorism, and thus elevated Ethiopia image in front of western donors and meddlers into the affairs of Africa.
There is no doubt that the deceased Ethiopia despot, or for life president was a powerful figure, master manipulator, brilliant politician, a shrewd strategist, and meddlers into the affairs of his neighbors in a negative fashion, and especially in the Somali quagmire, Eritrea, and Djibouti. Whatever, you call him, there is no doubt that the man has tremendous energy, and drive to thrust Ethiopia forward, and put it under the realm of development, but at the same time, one cannot ignore his repressiveness, intolerance of dissent, suppression of any form of effective opposition, his continuous denial of individual rights, and the formation of a token or rather cosmetic federal system in Ethiopia, where the center should have been ceding significant powers to the regional governments, but not the case here. The real power in the country still resides with the center, which is headed and dominated by Zinewi. In general all different ethnic Somalis were individually welcomed in Ethiopia, but he never stopped, nor get tired of meddling in Somalia, the Republic of Somaliland, and Djibouti. His policy was double faced, or a double-edged sword. When it comes to both Somalia, Djibouti, and Somaliland, for example, while on the surface appeared to be a good friend to all of the above named countries, but deep down he was a man with a far-reaching vision of denying the Somalis to have multiple independent and modern states.
Ethiopia-occupied ethnic nations’ perspective
Ethiopia ethnic nations consider Zinew as a master manipulator in chief of all times. They see the fact that political and civil rights is trampled upon; they also see no improvement of their lives. This is also a great opportunity for these communities who were always at the fringes of the Ethiopian society. This will be the first time these groups outside the ruling circle of Ethiopia to capture the leadership of the country.
The former colonial powers/ current neo-colonial powers perspective
Former colonial powers such as the French and the British see Zinewi as a great their great friend in arms when it comes to so-called war on terrorism. Zinewi became their point man or proxy if you will. They ordered him to send his Ethiopian forces in order to take care of the then rising Islamic Court Union an amalgam of loosely aligned different Islamic courts in Mogadishu. The heavily armed Ethiopian forces routed the lightly armed Islamic courts, which resorted to guerrilla tactics. A version of Islamic courts called Al-Shabab later on defeated the Ethiopian forces and forced them to withdraw from Mogadishu. The imperial power states will really miss Zinewi, a man who never says no to their demands.
The ordinary none Amhara/Tigrey alliance perspective
The Amhara and the Tigrians, Zinewi’s tribe, were ruling the rest of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups for a very long time. These two groups have ruled Ethiopia for hundreds of years. They think Zinewi has taken from them a long and God-given privilege of ruling Ethiopia forever. Zinewi was a highly skillful tyrant who on the surface acts like an angel who does nothing. They think he is the one who never hesitated to oppress them, and denied them their basic rights.
Somaliland survey regarding Meles Zinew’s was primarily a mixed bag. According to a large number of Somalianders, Zinewi was a Somaliland friend. They regard him and Ethiopia in general as people who helped them during their hour of need; meaning when during Siyad Barre army of terror was imposing reign of terror, death and destruction to their land. Over all, Somalilanders were and still thankful to Ethiopia, and how they helped them when they need them. There are other Somalilanders who think Ethiopia should have done more regarding the recognition of their country.
African despots and presidents for life perspective
Many despots were so saddened by the death of their preeminent dictator Meles Zinewi. The sudden departure of their guru, mentor, enforcer, and the despots of all despots has greatly saddened them. Many of them already released statements of praise and condolences on deceased dictator. I did not know this just departed despot was a smart dictator, a mentor, and a role model for so many other dictators. Both pseudo dictators, such as Rail Odinga, and Kibaki of Kenya, the corrupt and morally compromised South African leader Jacob Zuma, and for life despots such as Robert Mugabe also praised Zinewi and called him a man of peace. Calling Zinewi a man of peace is nothing but a travesty and a blatant lie.
Zinewi may be called many other adjective, but being a man of piece can’t be among them. Kibaki, the current Kenyan president is a soft despot and corrupt pseudo-dictator who rigged Kenyan presidential elections, and in the interim along with his also corrupt vice-president Raila Odinga triggered deadly communal wars in Kenya. Zinewi has refused the so-called international court to cede Badme, the piece of desert that caused a deadly war between Ethiopia and Eritrea where one hundred thousand Ethiopians, and Eritrea. All those lives were lost in vain. He refused to accept the said court order and arbitration between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The international court has ruled in favor of Eritrea.
What the death means for Ethiopia?
As a fragile imperial country that has so many different, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and tribal groups, needs a very strong leader who uses multiple talents and skills that keep all those pieces of the puzzle together. In order to bring his subjects in line, Zinewi was the type of leader who has the ability to utilize multiple methods, including carrot and stick, manipulation, power of persuasion, bribery, intimidation, and sometimes just mere false promises. Ethiopia is still a fragile nation made of multiple artificial nations brought together through brute force, and not through shared ideals, common ancestry or ethnic and linguistic relationship. Any misstep, mishandling or mistake, flagrant usurpation of political rights has the potentiality, to trigger conflict, conflagration between the different nations that reside within the belly of the Ethiopian empire.
Short list of blames from natives of Somalia (former Somali Italiano) on Zinewi
The man is also heavily blamed for his constant meddling into the internal affairs of Somalia (former Somali Italiano). Over the years, Zinewi was blamed for playing different clan factions, and warlords against one another. He is also allegedly a major power broker who supports, and grooms certain warlords and tribal factions against others. There are some among the natives of that country that accuse him of being a major part of the Somalia quagmire.
In conclusion what intrigued many including myself is was what made a dogmatic socialist revolutionary who fought, and ousted a disastrous dictatorship into a dictator. Whatever good things he has done for Ethiopia will forever be tarnished, and eventually diminished by his dictatorship. Under his watch, He will forever be blamed for the lost golden opportunity to transform Ethiopia from a medieval nation into a modern and open pluralistic society, where Ethiopian citizens enjoy the privilege to choose the leaders. Therefore, his legacy can’t escape the notorious legacies of imperial Ethiopian emperors such Menelik, Haile Salessie, and the bloody butcher dictator “Mengistu Haile Mariam.”
Suleiman Egeh is a freelance writer and a senior science